HIAWASEE, Ga. – A long-awaited, highly anticipated ceremony took place on the grounds of the Towns County Courthouse Saturday, May 20, 2018, memorializing the completion of renovation of the Old Rock Jail. The historic site sits just east of the county courthouse, adjacent to the Towns County Library. Deeded to the Towns County Historical Society Oct. 20, 2016, by former Towns County Commissioner Bill Kendall, efforts to transform the site into a museum proved to be a success.
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 until the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The jail was renovated in 1980, and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the site Jan. 27, 2017.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony began with words of welcome from Towns County Historian and Master of Ceremonies Jerry Taylor. An invocation was offered by Towns County Historical Society Member Doug Nicholson, followed by the Pledge of Alligence lead by Cub Scouts Pack 407, with the National Anthem sung by Karli Cheeks. Towns County Historical Society officers were announced, with President Sandra Green, Vice President Nancy Cody, Secretary Betty Phillips, Treasurer Frances Shook, and Membership Secretary Mary Ann McCall Miller in attendance.
Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, former Towns County Commissioner Bill Kendall, and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales spoke at the ceremony, expressing appreciation to the historical society for their dedicated work toward the project. Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton attended the event.
Jay “Junior” Chastain and Trey Chastain, the son and grandson of former Sheriff Jay Chastain were recognized. Sheriff Chastain lost his life in the line of duty in 1974, and Chastain was the the last sheriff to live in the Old Rock Jail.
Towns County Historical Society Deputy Historian Jason Edwards presented the history of the Old Rock Jail to the sizable crowd.
Towns County Chamber of Commerce President Candace Lee orchestrated the ribbon-cutting.
The museum features artifacts from Towns County’s past, with some items donated and others on loan. Photographs from days gone by grace the vine-roped stone of the interior, with the downstairs living quarters revived to its former glory. The upper-level of the museum contains the cells where inmates were once housed, as well as the former sheriffs’ office, and the area is available for public viewing.
Towns County Historical Society meets on the second Monday of each month, at 5:30 p.m. at the former Senior Center, located at 900 North Main St. in Hiawassee.
Information on becoming a member of the society can be found at TownsCountyHistory.org.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society presented the city of Hiawassee with an artifact Monday, March 26, at the council’s monthly work session: the original 1929 tax digest for the city.
“This is very appropriate since you were just talking about your budget,” Towns County Historian Sandra Green told Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. “This is the 1929 tax digest for the city of Hiawassee. This is the original and we’re presenting it to the city. You’ll love some of these numbers. The Bank of Hiawassee, their city tax was $21.70, but they only paid $20.30, and we aren’t sure why.”
The crowd erupted in laughter.
Penciled beside the typewritten taxes due from the Bank of Hiawassee, the amount paid is scribbled.
The aged list contains the names of citizens and businesses that operated in Hiawassee nearly nine decades ago.
The tax calculations were based on 40 cents per $100 worth of property.
The total amount of taxed property amounted to $46,977, with $187.60 due to Hiawassee.
The highest amount in taxes owed by a citizen was $16.40.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales expressed appreciation to the Towns County Historical Society for the framed document.
The Towns County Historical Society reminded that restoration of the Old Rock Jail will soon be completed with the museum scheduled to open May 19.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Fetch Your News (FYN) correspondent, Robin Webb, was granted an impromptu tour of the Old Rock Jail in Hiawassee on Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green approached the site as heavy afternoon rain fell and found the reporter perched on the porch, seeking cover from the storm.
The historian was scheduled to meet an electrician in a continuing effort to restore the jail to its original glory, and kindly offered the curious journalist an opportunity to explore before the workman arrived.
“The floor restoration is our proudest achievement. Coker Custom Floors was able to preserve the original wood,” Ms. Green informed as the pair entered what was once the sheriffs’ living quarters, “and the walls are unique. The style is called grapevine.”
The Old Rock Jail served as the county jail from 1936 to the mid-1970s, prior to the construction of an updated detention center. The building was renovated in 1980 and functioned as Hiawassee City Hall, as well as a voting precinct, before abandonment in favor of a modern facility. The jail was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The Towns County Historical Society gained possession of the future museum on Jan. 27, 2017.
Ms. Green guided the way through the former kitchen where a wood burning stove once stood, winding around into a narrow hallway. “I believe a desk sat there for registering the inmates,” the historian said, pointing to an area beneath the stairwell.
The intrigued reporter glanced toward the steps that lead to the desolate cells above as thunder rumbled outdoors. “Just wait until you see the up there,” the friendly historian chimed, well aware of the writer’s fascination.
The final room toured on the lower level once served as bedrooms for the sheriffs and their families. Green pointed out a marking on the wall where the room was previously separated by a partition. Once the restoration is complete, the area will become the museum’s main display section for rotating historical artifacts, while the living area will be decorated seasonally to reflect and preserve the sheriffs’ dwelling.
The time had arrived to head upstairs to view the jail itself. “Watch your footing,” Ms. Green cautioned as the journalist followed closely behind. “We still need to install a railing.”
The historian swung open a heavy iron door and the duo proceeded inside. The cells were dimly lit and a dampness hung in the air. The skeletons of metal bunk beds surrounded a cage that once housed up to four inmates at any given time. Countless names were scrawled and chiseled into the rock walls by the inhabitants, alongside spray-painted graffiti, an act of vandals after the jail was vacated in 1977.
Across the hall lies what was once a bullpen for additional prisoners. A compact cell with the bars running diagonally lines a corner. “We believe that was the drunk tank,” Ms. Green explained.
The last upstairs room entered was the former sheriff’s office. “That’s why the walls in here are so much cleaner than the others,” the historian quipped as the reporter snapped more photographs. Military memorabilia will be placed on display throughout the jail’s upper level.
Six Towns County Sheriffs once called the Old Rock Jail home, the final being Sheriff Jay V. Chastain Sr. who was killed in the line of duty on Dec. 8, 1974
FYN inquired as to when the site’s final restorations are expected to be complete. A date is unknown at the time of publishing. One thing is for certain, however. It will be a must-see spot for history lovers, both local and tourist alike.
The Old Rock Jail is located next to the Towns County Courthouse, south of Hiawassee Square.
Featured Image: Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green
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